May 18, 2008


CBI Live
Buursma buoys Bucknell past Navy for Patriot League title


By Phil Stanton Co-Founder

(photo courtesy of Bucknell media relations office)


ANNAPOLIS, Md. – If Reggie Jackson is Mr. October, Jason Buursma may become known as Mr. May.


For the second consecutive game, Buursma earned the victory on the mound and scored the game-winning run in the ninth as fourth-seeded Bucknell nipped second-seeded Navy 8-7 at sun-splashed Max Bishop Stadium to sweep the Patriot League Championship Series.


“I’ve always been fortunate to be able to play both ways,” Buursma said, “and I get the chance to be out there and I got lucky to be in the right spot at the right time.”


Under the previous Patriot League postseason system, these two teams would not have been in the championship series. Last season, only the top three teams made postseason play, with #2 and #3 playing in a one-game playoff and the winner facing the top seed in a best-of-three series, all played over a two-day period. Bucknell would not have made the postseason field, and #3 Holy Cross beat Navy in their first semifinal series game last weekend. This year, the top two seeds hosted a best-of three semifinal series last weekend, with a best-of-three Championship series this weekend.


“I think it’s a great format,” said Bucknell head coach Gene Depew. “It certainly was to our advantage for this year. I think it’s a good format in that the competition especially this year in the Patriot League was so tight that anybody within it could come out of the tournament and I think it’s great to be able to involve the four teams.”


Buursma (9-3) earned the wins in each of the four postseason victories for the Bison (26-22-2), including both semifinal wins last weekend at top-seeded Army. Buursma pitched a perfect top of the ninth with one strikeout to keep the score at 7-7.


“I’ve never had two weekends like these past two.” Buursma said. “I’ve never really won a big championship in my life and this has just been unbelievable. Everyone’s been playing their heart out and just been having so much fun.”


Buursma hit the first pitch of the bottom of the ninth to left off reliever Mark McCoy (6-5) for a single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Chris Pieper.


“I was just looking for something up,” Buursma said. “I was sitting back. I knew he was going to throw me something offspeed. He used a couple of fastballs in that other at bat. I knew I was going to see something offspeed and I saw it up. When you see something up, it looks good.”


J.D. Melton replaced McCoy on the mound. After a lineout to short, Shawn Hirsch, who was 3 for 3 with 3 RBI, was intentionally walked.


“I think that’s the first one of my career,” Hirsch said of his intentional walk. “Coming out of nowhere I didn’t even know what to do. But I had one of my best boys hitting behind me and he made me proud. He did a great job with that single down the line.”


Ed Rubbo sent a 1-0 into right, bringing home Buursma with the championship run.


“When you step into that batter’s box,” Rubbo said, “it’s like being into a classroom. You learn what pitches he’s going to throw to you, the movement of the ball. My first at bat, which was yesterday against that same exact closer, it ended in a strikeout. But I learn from at bats and learn what pitches he was going to throw. So stepping in there today against that same closer, I had more confidence and knew, kind of predicted what he was going to throw. He started off with the same pitch he struck me out on yesterday, which was the inside slider, and I saw it low. The way he comes with his motion, you have to take the approach where you’re going to drop it in right field. When I saw fastball, I was thinking right field with it and that’s where it ended up.”


The Midshipmen (32-25-1) built a 7-2 lead in the middle of the sixth before the Bison battled back.


“We just keep hanging in there,” Depew said. “Both games were very similar in that their starting pitchers were throwing very well but when we got to the bullpen we were able to get some momentum and turn the game around.”


Buursma homered and John Avanzino singled to start the bottom of the sixth, knocking out Navy starter Mitch Harris. Austin Turban added a pinch-hit RBI single to drive in Avanzino to make it a 7-4 contest.


Bucknell tied it with a three-run eighth. Avanzino led off with a triple and Andrew Brouse followed with a walk. Both came home on a double by Hirsch, who was sacrificed to third by Rubbo and came home on a sacrifice fly by Ben Allen to knot the score at 7-7.


Navy used a two-out rally to get on the board in the top of the first. Thomas Hamilton singled into shallow right and Michael Speciale sent a 3-2 pitch over the fence in right center for his 10th home run and a 2-0 lead for the Midshipmen.


The Mids added to their lead in the second as Steven Soares drew a one-out walk, moved to third on a fly ball single that the rightfielder lost in the sun and scored on a sacrifice fly by Nick Driscoll to give Navy a 3-0 lead.


Navy added a run in the fourth as Kendall Bolt drew a leadoff walk, stole second, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a groundout by Soares to make it 4-0.


The Bison cut the lead in half in the bottom of the fourth. Brouse started the rally with a one-out single to third. Hirsch had a hit-and-run triple to left center, his first three-bagger of the season, to plate Brouse with the first run. Hirsch came home on a sacrifice fly by Rubbo to make it a 4-2 contest.


Navy kept the offense going in the top of the fifth. Renaldo Hollins drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on a failed pickoff attempt. Mike Guadagnini reached on an error, moving Hollins to third. Hamilton was hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs. Speciale hit a sacrifice fly to left, and one out later, Jonathan Wright had a base hit up the middle to push the lead to 6-2 and chase Bucknell starter Eric Jarrett.


The Mids added a run in the sixth as Hollins led off with a double and scored on a base hit by Hamilton, which broke the Patriot League record for hits in a season with 89.


Bucknell won its fourth Patriot League title and will advance to its first NCAA Tournament since 2003.